The Many Faces of Bay Leaf

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It’s a chameleon flavor; scent shifting to blend with other flavors and become more than the sum of its parts. Like a hostess at the party, bay gets the other flavors to mingle and talk to each other.

I never gave bay much thought, it was the leaf in the soup or sauce, and if it wound up on your plate, you won a quarter.

Bay leaves It’s a chameleon flavor; scent shifting to blend with other flavors and become more than the sum of its parts. Like a hostess at the party, bay gets the other flavors to mingle and talk to each other.

I never gave bay much thought, it was the leaf in the soup or sauce, and if it wound up on your plate, you won a quarter. What? You didn’t play that in your house?  Makes eating soup so much more exciting.
Then this summer, in Puglia, I experienced the addictive, subversive combination of fennel and bay. Wild fennel stalks, stewed with tomato and bay leaves and used as the foundation for seafood sauces. Or as a base for risotto. Superb.  Fennel stalks with bay leaves

This combo also works well with roast pork. Cover the skin of the pork loin with fennel pollen, add some bay leaves and garlic between the skin and the meat, and roast on a bed of fennel stalks. Heavenly. 

Last weekend, our good friend Elaine introduced me to sour cherries and bay. An unlikely combo you may think, but it was delicious. Think about it: a little tart/sweet cherry playing with the herbacious, floral notes of bay, combined with the rich taste of duck. Addictive.

Next up: curried mussel soup with bay. Lots of chopped onions, mussels, chicken stock, Vindaloo and curry spices and bay leaf. We ate every last drop.  The bay brightened the curry flavor, and added a citric note. Curried Mussel Soup

All of this has me thinking that bay is another one of those unsung heroes in the herb world; it deserves more attention and experimentation.

On a practical note: bay leaves don’t get soft when you cook them, so don’t leave bay bits floating in the soup. They could scratch your innards and that wouldn’t be fun. Either leave the leaf whole and give out prizes to whomever gets the leaf or combine with other spices and herbs in a little tied up bundle (bouquet garni) to make removal easy.

Bay leaves are better dried than fresh. If you have a bay laurel tree, pick the leaves and let them dry for a week or two before using. Do NOT use the leaves from a mountain laurel or cherry laurel tree, they look similar but are poisonous.

Bay leaves are a natural insecticide. I throw a bunch of bay leaves into my flour bin to keep any little mites or other buggers from thinking about visiting my flour stash.

And finally bay leaves and basil are not the same thing! Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. Hit the google button and you’ll see how many hits you get for “bay leaves vs basil”. For the record, there is nothing remotely similar about basil and bay leaf except they may find themselves stewing together in the tomato sauce pot.

Anyone else with bay secrets to share?

  

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